John Marshall (September 24, 1755 – July 6, 1835) was an American politician, lawyer, and Founding Father who served as the fourth chief justice of the United States from 1801 until his death in 1835. He remains the longest-serving chief justice and fourth-longest serving justice in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court, and is widely regarded as one of the most influential justices ever to serve.
Marshall was born in Germantown in the Colony of Virginia in 1755. After the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War, he joined the Continental Army, serving in numerous battles. During the later stages of the war, he was admitted to the state bar and won election to the Virginia House of Delegates. Marshall favored the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, and he played a major role in Virginia’s ratification of that document.
At the request of President Adams, Marshall traveled to France in 1797 to help bring an end to attacks on American shipping. In what became known as the XYZ Affair, the government of France refused to open negotiations unless the United States agreed to pay bribes. After returning to the United States, Marshall won election to the U.S. House of Representatives and emerged as a leader of the Federalist Party in Congress. He was appointed secretary of state in 1800 after a cabinet shake-up, becoming an important figure in the Adams administration.
In 1801, Adams appointed Marshall to the Supreme Court. Marshall quickly emerged as the key figure on the court, due in large part to his personal influence with the other justices. Under his leadership, the court moved away from seriatim opinions, instead issuing a single majority opinion that elucidated a clear rule. The 1803 case of Marbury v. Madison presented the first major case heard by the Marshall Court. In his opinion for the court, Marshall upheld the principle of judicial review, whereby courts could strike down federal and state laws if they conflicted with the Constitution.
Marshall’s holding avoided direct conflict with the executive branch, which was led by Democratic-Republican President Thomas Jefferson. By establishing the principle of judicial review while avoiding an inter-branch confrontation, Marshall helped implement the principle of separation of powers and cement the position of the American judiciary as an independent and co-equal branch of government.
After 1803, many of the major decisions issued by the Marshall Court confirmed the supremacy of the federal government and the federal Constitution over the states. John Marshall died of natural causes in 1835, and Andrew Jackson appointed Roger Taney as his successor.
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